Last night’s showing of The Den brought Edaein O’Connell back to her childhood, and for a short breath, she was nine years old again.
Growing up, my brothers and I spent a lot of time at our neighbour’s house.
Our parents worked full-time, and so they put themselves forward as our childminders. Their names were Maureen and Jeremiah, and to the three of us, they were family. Their house was small and had no indoor bathroom. They had a picture of John F. Kennedy on the wall, and they called the hall ‘the scullery.’ The house always smelled of freshly baked bread and roast beef. They sat at opposite sides of the kitchen while one hurled insults at the other, but the love was there.
Every day after school, Maureen would feed me white bread with sugar while Jeremiah told me stories. My teeth decayed, but my childhood remained undamaged. Every evening when my parents would pick me up, I hated to leave them and left reluctantly with a kiss on the cheek. Maureen and Jeremiah are no longer here, but my memory of them has never faded. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t think of them. Something or someone will rouse a scene from my childhood, and I’ll be hit by a wave of sadness that turns to comfort as it moves away from the shore.
I should have known that last night’s return of The Den would muddle my emotions. Because every memory of after school snacks and afternoons spent with my surrogate family are tied up with The Den. Running off the bus, I would plant myself on the chair in front of the TV and become immersed in the antics of Ray, Zig & Zag, Dustin, Socky, Zuppy, Damien, and everyone who came afterward.
I distinctly remember a girl in my class receiving a Den goodie bag after a picture she drew appeared on the show. The entire class was unbearably jealous, even the crowd who swore they watched Nickelodeon exclusively and thought The Den was beneath them.
Every Christmas and Easter, I racked up a phone bill that made my parents cry from my attempts at entering the seasonal competitions. And I detested my January 1 birthday because The Den wasn’t on, and I couldn’t get my name on the birthday list.
The Den possessed serious power and was to Irish children what the Late Late Show was to adults.
Last night’s showing was like taking a time machine back to the early years. It was chaotic. I don’t ever remember it being that loud. But it was wonderful and lovely and as charming as it always was. Ray tried to talk while Zig and Zag shouted. Dustin told slightly inappropriate jokes with taglines that flew over our heads as children. While Ronan Keating and Dara Ó Briain appeared and barely made it out alive after the slagging they received.
The rehashing of TV classics is a hazardous exercise. Most modernise the feel and change the dynamics, ultimately helping viewers forget what made it unique in the first place. The Den brought it forward but stayed through to its roots – and this was a stroke of genius. The Birthday Roller, quizzes, and sketches remained; the dynamic between host and puppets stayed intact. And today, there are full-grown adults yearning for a special The Den denim jacket.
In hindsight, the hectic format of The Den was perfect children’s TV. With a short-lived attention span, kids must be stimulated at regular intervals. Those very kids who watched it are now adults who scroll feeds and skip videos if the content doesn’t arouse their interest within the first two seconds – making The Den ideal adult viewing too.
For once, there were no harsh comments or glib takes on silliness across Twitter. People were joyful about watching something that lifted our mood rather than maintaining the stress we are under. I don’t think the words ‘coronavirus’ or ‘global pandemic’ were uttered once in the hour. After months of dejection and isolation, The Den appeared and wrapped us up in nostalgia and protected us from the forbidding world. Since the pandemic began, we have made more space for wistfulness. We are lonesome for ordinary life. The Den brought us all back to childhood, and for a short breath, we were nine years old again.
They say looking to the past is a terrible practice. Instead, keep the head screwed on with your eyes forward. However, there are times like last night when it is necessary. The ‘inner-child’ trope may be sickly profound, but sometimes we need to remember what it’s like to have no worries and let the adults take care of it.
So long-live The Den. May it forever be messy and mad and brilliant. May Dustin never age. May we always be young. And may next weekend’s show be even better than the last.
Because last night, it wasn’t 6.30 pm on a Sunday night, but 3.3o pm on a weekday after school.
And for one glorious hour, I was transported back to JFK on the wall, with Maureen and Jeremiah, and white bread with sugar.
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